Facebook's "Safety Check" Feature Is Convenient, But Not Exactly Necessary

On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg's latest brain baby was unveiled: Facebook's "Safety Check" tool, a feature to let people know you're safe during a natural disaster — you know, instead of, like, giving them a call. Or sending them a personal message. Or even posting a personalized status update, saying: "Dear Fam, I'm okay". No, now all you have to do is swipe, click a button, and generic message will be posted to your friends' news-feeds telling them you're alright. Just what every mother loves.

The "Safety Check" feature — unveiled yesterday in Japan and soon to be available worldwide on Android, iOS, and desktop — is meant as an extension of the Disaster Message Board they created back in 2011, after the Japanese tsunami devastated over 12.5 million people in the area. The message board was a huge success, allowing people to search for and connect with family members and friends who might have been missing or hard to reach.

The "Safety Check" feature is meant to be an improved version of the Message Board, by working like this: if a natural disaster hits your area (and you have your location listed, or have checked in on Nearby Friends), you'll get a push notification. It'll say something like: "Are you OK? It looks like you're in the area hit by [insert natural disaster here]. Let friends know if you're safe."

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Then, all you have to do is swipe, and then click the "I'm safe" button. This then sends an update to friends and family, in the form of a notification, telling them that you're safe. And you can mark friends as safe, too. You can even comment on people's Safe notifications — like saying, Hey, I'm glad you're alive! to someone who's survived an earthquake. As Zuckerberg explained in a Facebook post:

Over the last few years there have been many disasters and crises where people have turned to the Internet for help. Each time, we see people use Facebook to check on their loved ones and see if they're safe. Connecting with people is always valuable, but these are the moments when it matters most.Safety Check is our way of helping our community during natural disasters and gives you an easy and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends and family in one place.

I'm not trying to ignore what a powerful tool social media can be, especially in times of natural disaster. When an unforeseen natural tragedy strikes, it's immensely important to have a forum through which to connect with other people — that's why Google's Person Finder tool was incredible, and Facebook's Message Board was so necessary. And hey, at least Facebook is using its creepy knowing-where-you-are powers for good here, instead of evil.

But if you're going to swipe and tap, why wouldn't you just swipe and tap a status? Why wouldn't you just type, "I'm ok"? Or better yet, call, if your mobile device is working? Isn't part of what's important during times of crisis the connection to other people? And what if you're fine, but your 3G isn't working — suddenly, your entire family is panicking because you haven't checked the I'm Safe box.

Having said all that, the Safety Check tool will no doubt be incredibly popular, precisely because it's convenient, and all it involves is a swipe and a click. But if any of my friends are reading this, if disaster strikes, I still expect a call — or at least a message.

Image: Facebook Newsroom